Published: 05:00, 05 January 2022
| Updated: 15:32, 05 January 2022
The government has refused to say how £54m of taxpayers’ money provided to the French authorities to tackle small boat crossings is being spent.
The Home Office says it would not be in the public interest to release details of what the money has been used to fund.
In response to a Freedom of Information request made by KentOnline, the Home Office states disclosure could jeopardise diplomatic relations between the UK and France.
It has also argued that if released, the documents providing details could compromise operational activities on the French coast around Calais, as well as setback efforts to make the English channel ‘unviable.’
Analysis carried out by the Press Association shows at least 28,395 people made the crossing last year.
The Home Office says the documents it holds on expenditure of the £54m are “permeated with content related to French operational activity and the UK’s relationship with the French Government. These relationships are ongoing and ever-evolving; they are vital to live negotiations with the French Government surrounding the joint operational response to small boat crossings. Should these relationships incur damage, joint plans to progress in rendering the English Channel unviable for migrant crossings may experience setbacks.”
The formal refusal notice adds that disclosure, “could have a detrimental impact on the relationship as it would suggest we don’t intend to keep agreements private as expected.”
Under FOI legislation, the government acknowledged the exemptions it relied on to withhold information required the application of a public interest test.
However, the response concludes: “It is in the best interests of the public to maintain the exemption in order to safeguard the Home Office’s current and future negotiations and agreements with the French Government; supporting the overall aim of eradicating illegal migration to the UK via small boat crossings of the English Channel, which is very much in the public’s interest.”
Releasing information regarding “the finer details of the agreement” could “potentially confer an advantage to organised criminal gangs” by providing them with insight into the measures which the UK and France are planning to take to tackle the crossings.”
As a result, countering the gangs could be less effective.
The decision to give the money to the French authorities has attracted criticism but has been defended by the Home Secretary Priti Patel.
She told MPs last July she made the pledge because illegal journeys had increased, requiring more beach patrols and capacity to intercept boats in the Channel.
Appearing in front of the Home Affairs select committee she said:
“France are intercepting more boats than they did this time last year, that's because numbers are so high.So we've doubled the number of patrols around French beaches and improved surveillance, technology and intelligence."
KentOnline revealed last year that more than £1m was spent in just five months on surveillance from the sky, according to spending data published under government transparency rules.